Thursday, May 03, 2007

 

60 Reasons to dump Harper

60 Reasons to dump Harper
HARPER WATCH COUNTDOWN / Queers and allies should be very worried

Marcus McCann / Xtra.ca / Monday, April 30, 2007

SHHH. Soccer moms are softening on Harper. That doesn't mean he's not making SoCon ideological moves. He's just doing it quietly. (Illustration by John Crossen, photo by Jake Wright)
Why were we so afraid of a Harper government? Legislation dictated by religious ideology? War on the homos? Slashes to social programming? A US-style prison system?

Just 15 months into his mandate, and in a delicate minority Parliament, he's doing all those things — and more. Harper and his cabinet have been slowly — quietly — changing the way Canada is run. But many changes don't get headlines, because they don't require legislation to pass through Parliament. That's because government policies can be changed directly from the Prime Minister's Office — and policies affect the kind of Canada we live in much more than legislation does. That Canadians haven't noticed — or else are willfully blind — proves it really has been a con job.

Starting on April fool's day (not an accident) and for the next two months, xtra.ca brings you a countdown of 60 of the ways Harper is reshaping Canada in his own image.


#31: CONSERVATIVE FREE MARKET OVER CONSERVATION, SAYS A BATTERED BAIRD


Tackling how this country produces and uses energy would be too expensive, environment minister John Baird told the country, so we're going to focus on dishwashers. David Suzuki calls it "disappointing" but others used less restraint.

The whole world seems to be on the same page about global warming for the first time, except for a handful of politicians — including the increasingly embarrassing John Baird. Look, it's bad enough that he was on hand to defend cutting the court challenges program at the Tory press conference last fall (more on that later).

When Baird was given the environment portfolio, the media picked up on Baird's reputation as a party yes-man, capable of defending even Harper's sleaziest political moves.


THE LIST SO FAR


#60: PARTISANS CLOG JUDICIAL SCREENING COMMITTEES


Conservatives made headlines in February 2007 for controversial appointments to the board that recommends new judges. Over half the appointees surveyed had obvious Conservative connections. They included twice-defeated Conservative candidate Mark Bettens, a firefighter with one year of school at Cape Breton University and no discernible expertise in law. It also included Prime Minister Stephen Harper's best friend, John Weissenberger, who later resigned from the committee to take a job on Parliament Hill. The other half? Many of them have argued that the courts are "too activist."

Considering that most gay rights were earned in the courts rather than in the House Of Commons, Canada's queer community has cause for concern. If this were Harper's only act of political interference, it alone could help re-shape this country over time. But as you will see from future installments on this list, Harper's increasing stranglehold on the judiciary — which comes directly from the Prime Minister's Office with or without a majority — may prove his lasting legacy.


#59: VIC TOEWS SNAGS JUSTICE PORTFOLIO


Prisoners' right to vote, gays' right to marry, women's right to choose: the former Manitoba justice minister has spoken out against them all. That made Toews a bad choice for Harper's first federal cabinet if he wanted to appear more moderate than Liberals has painted him as. But Toews was a good choice for cabinet if he wanted to thank his social conservative voters for handing him the PMO — which is exactly what happened on Feb 6, 2006.

Ironically, Harper's association with SoCons like Toews has both brought him to power and handicapped his chances of winning a majority. Judge a person by the company they keep — and Harper's company includes the like of Vic Toews.


#58: ANTIGAY LAWYER PROMOTED TO COURT OF APPEAL

On Sep 20, the Prime Minister appointed David Brown to the Ontario Superior Court in the Toronto area. Brown represented antigay and antiabortion views in a handful of court cases and wrote legal documents on the "sanctity of life." Freedom of choice groups were understandably miffed.

Just because the next Supreme Court judge isn't set to retire until 2013, doesn't mean that Harper can't wreak havoc on the provincial appeal courts. Enough appointments like Brown and Canada's equality battles could indeed be in jeopardy.


#57 CAN I GET ONE THAT SAYS 'IDEOLOGUE' ON MY BACK?

Stockwell Day says it's ridiculous to provide a tattoo parlour in a prison. Why would good, hard-working taxpayers spend their money on "I heart mom" tats for crooks? Day was commenting on the decision not to renew a one-year six-prison pilot program that cost $600,000 to run for the year ending Sep 30, 2006. Not on my watch, he said.

If you've ever been inked yourself, you know about the sterilization checklist a tattoo artists goes through before they stick you. In prison, no tattoo program, no sterilization. The result is new infections of HIV and Hepatitis C in prison — a place where years of neglect has led to staggering infection rates.

The costs of preventing new HIV and Hep C infections otherwise caused by homemade tattoo equipment in prison is a pittance next to the cost of treating either — $20-25,000 a year. But then, it's not about the money, is it?


#56 HILL JOB FOR FOCUS ON THE FAMILY PREZ

It lasted less than a year, but Darrel Reid's appointment sent shivers up the spines of even moderate Conservatives. He was the head of Focus On The Family Canada from 1998 to 2004, an ideologically anti-gay, anti-feminist, anti-abortion group with connections to the leaders of the US Christian right. He became then-environment minister Rona Ambrose's chief of staff in September 2006.

Focus On The Family Canada is headquartered in Langley, BC and founded in 1983. It is affiliated with the leading US evangelical Christian group, Focus On The Family headed by James Dobson. Though the Canadian organization has traditionally enjoyed little influence outside of rural enclaves and evangelical churches, the US parent is seen as a major influence on the Republican Party and politics generally. Reid was gone by late January, meaning he lasted four months or less.

Oh, religion. As you will see from this countdown, religious zealots have had Harper's ear since he started in politics. Facing facts, religious communities have had a hand in voting for him and paying for his campaigns: should we be surprised that he's beholden to them?


#55 HARPER TEARS UP KELOWNA ACCORD

Twice, actually.

The 2006 budget first. Three months after Stephen Harper won his minority victory in January of 2006, Mike Harris-era MPP cum finance minister Jim Flaherty unveiled his budget. It was largely perceived as a stay-the-course budget, garnished with 25 narrow tax breaks. Spending was mostly intact, but there was an $800 million hole where phase one of the $5.1 billion Kelowna Accord was supposed to be. The agreement represented the largest payout to the First Nations in Canada's history. About half that amount was allocated instead and Flaherty called it a "down payment."

Tensions — already brewing — erupt in Caledonia, a small town in southern Ontario. Residents, shocked at the anger and violence of the First Nations protesters, can't wrap their minds around why. The town's residents gear up for a fight; several counter-protests draw hundreds of residents within a hare's breath of rioting.

A year later, Caledonia is still unresolved. A private member's bill calling on the government to honour Kelowna — introduced by the man who inked Kelowna, former prime minister Paul Martin — passed Mar 21 with the support of the Liberals, the Bloc and the NDP. But private member's bills cannot allocate money in the budget, so the bill has no teeth. Indian affairs minister Jim Prentice says no, so that makes twice.


#54 CONS SHUT OUT BLACK AND BLUE


Montreal's Black and Blue Festival used to receive federal dollars as part of its regional economic development program. The weeklong event attracts 10,000 participants and generates millions of dollars in spinoff revenues. Tourism puts more money in the federal purse than the municipal one, hence the regional development spinoff.

But the organization, which was awarded over $47,000 last year for the amount of business it generates, was not told the cash was cut until a week before the event. The event went on full steam ahead just the same, with highlights including the jock ball and leather ball.

The reason for the federal change of heart? It's not a family festival — a logic which can be used to shut out almost any gay event in the country, however family friendly it actually is.



#53 GAY MARRIAGE DEFEAT WAS TO BE FOLLOWED BY RELIGIOUS EXEMPTION BILL


It was at the height of the rhetoric surrounding Harper's failed attempt to re-open same-sex marriage in the fall of 2006. We knew it would fail. They knew it would fail. But what bone we they going to throw the SoCons after failing to repeal our right to our corner of the marital bed? (More on gay marriage later).

An Oct 4 leak suggested that the Conservatives planned four-part legislation aiming to protect religious groups and believers from prosecution for human rights violations against gay men and lesbians. The Globe reported Harper is planning laws that would: allow businesses to refuse services to gay and lesbian organizations; allow churches to refuse to rent halls for gay and lesbian weddings; allow justices of the peace to refuse to marry same sex couples; and protect people who speak out against gays and lesbians.

Harper hit the rough, denying a Defence Of Religion Act was in the works, but according to an Apr 2 story, the Globe And Mail now has proof that it was in the works and that former justice minister Vic Toews was personally involved with its planning.


To those who say the Conservatives aren't utterly beholden to Christian lobbyists, we say the proof is in the pudding.


#52 HARPER IS NO GOOD IF YOU LIKE MUSEUMS


Or any kind of culture really, unless the military counts.

First we heard, the Museum Assistance Program was canned. The $4.5 million program was small potatoes — and recently replaced with a $5 million 2-year program to hire summer students, which the Canadian Museums Association calls an initiative "stemming more from electoral preoccupations than from an analysis of the museums' priority needs."

Then we noticed that the Portrait Gallery of Canada had been left out of future federal budgets entirely. Mothballing the portrait museum may be a bad idea, but cutting the already meager federal assistance to museums nationwide is worse for those that don't live in Canada's Capital Region.

Now the program that helps museums put their pieces on tour is closing its doors. The program — good for anyone who thinks museum's acquisitions are too centralized in Ontario — will shut down in less than a year.

Heritage minister Bev Oda has reneged on her commitment to a comprehensive national strategy for preserving Canada's museums, a plan she supported as heritage critic. Why? Is Harper waiting for a majority so he can axe federal contributions entirely?



#51 WHY DO YOU WANT TO GET HITCHED? FEAR.


When the Cons were polling behind the Liberals — despite the sponsorship scandal — we were cool as cucumbers. That was December 2005. Then it began to look like a Conservative government in the first days of 06.

And in the final days, pundits were predicting a Conservative majority government.

Gays got scared. Harper had promised to try to repeal gay marriage. Hence, the gay Harper-shotgun wedding was born, making the weekend of Jan 20, 2006 one of the busiest weekends for gay nuptials since the practice was legalized.

Around the xtra.ca offices, we're not big fans of marriage to begin with, so that Harper actually encouraged some of us to tie the knot doesn't sit well with us.

And of course, Harper's very real ability to give the gay community a collective ulcer is one more reason he gets a failing grade.


#50 HARPER HAS NEVER ATTENDED A PRIDE PARADE


Dear Mr Harper,

Do you feel saddled with an unwarranted reputation? Do you feel misrepresented by folks like us who consider you to be a Neanderthal SoCon ideologue? Would you like some advice — free! — on what you can do to change your image?

Hey, here's a crazy idea: how about you march in a Pride parade? It could really help you in the polls.

Case in point: the June 2004 election could have been a cakewalk for the Cons. Crippled by the release of the Gomery report, the Liberal image was utterly tattered. But you guys couldn't shake your Sister Mary Margaret image of prudery. When you skip out on the rainbow festivities, you're sending a message that goes well beyond the outskirts of the village, a message that speaks to all people who want a tolerant, progressive head of state.

Toronto? June 24? See you there?

Sincerely,
Xtra.ca


#49 SO MUCH FOR EXTRA ACCOUNTABILITY, MR HARPER


The Conservatives' much vaunted plan to open government operations to greater scrutiny has strings attached.

Public government reports and polls now take six months to be released, according to an Aug 1, 2006 Conservative policy change. That compares to a three-month delay under the Liberals, meaning Canadians have to wait twice as long for the reports they paid for.

It's especially underhanded to double the delay during a precarious minority Parliament. Polling information is time-sensitive for political parties gearing up for an election and reports that show how the government is doing could be instrumental in the timing of a federal election.


#48 STOCKWELL DAY PUTS PARDONS UNDER REVIEW


When someone says "sexual offences", people get their backs up. But consider the police's reputation over the last 30 years. They love to charge gay couples and hook-ups with committing 'indecent acts' — especially for encounters that are casual, involve more than two people or are in semi-private or public places. Consider the hundreds of bathhouse patrons who have been charged as found-ins of a bawdy house.

Public safety minister Stockwell Day announced in February that he is reviewing a process that allows people who have been convicted of a crime to clean up their criminal record. It's a relatively straightforward application to strike some convictions from appearing on police checks, which are often used for employment or travel purposes. Day says he especially wants to target "sexual offences".

For gay men, a group that has faced systemic harassment by the police, this represents a major setback — so get your pardons soon, boys.


#47 HARPER PAYS LIP TO ENVIRONMENT


A $2000 tax break for those who buy fuel-efficient cars may sound like a good idea: after all, David Suzuki says that the biggest personal environmental decision someone makes is about transportation. There's no doubt that hybrids are a more environmentally-sound choice than simple gasoline models. But should we be driving at all?

There's no incentive in Harper's budget to take public transportation, bike or live close to your work. For Canada's queer community, highly urbanized as it is, the plan may actually discourage downtown living, allowing suburbs to mushroom while downtown cores rot. Given that Harper is continuing the 15-year tradition of starving Canada's metropolises, how are hybrids any help?


#46 MESSAGE TO WIFEY: STAY AT HOME


At least two recent announcements by the Harper government are designed to keep women at home. The first was the 2007 budget, which disproportionately rewards married couples where one partner earns most or all of the income. These breaks shift the trade-off for women who are already at home in the direction of staying there — and even rewards partners who work part time for quitting to stay at home.

The second is the $1200 child care benefit for children under six. While doing virtually nothing for those moms who work — where can you find child care for $25 a week? — the plan was a hit with those already staying at home with their kids. When it one nearly universal approval from ultra-con so-called family values leaders last fall, one had to wonder what they were actually applauding: tax breaks or social engineering?


#45 CBC KAPUT AFTER HARPER MAJORITY

Canadians have been given all the warning signs that the CBC is on the chopping block if Harper gets a majority. In May 2004, he raised doubts about the future of those parts of the CBC where there is a commercial alternative ñ in particular, its English TV arm and CBC Radio Two. His comments have been echoed by his caucus, including cabinet minister Tony Clement, who questioned the necessity of the CBC during the party leadership convention.

Given the Conservatives' aversion to regulation and the ongoing CRTC drama, a Conservative majority could spell not just the end of the CBC, but the gradual shriveling of the Canadian cultural production industry, putting hundreds of art fags out of work.


#44 MANDATORY SENTENCING CATCHES ANAL SEX LAW


A bill that purportedly cracks down on criminals who get off too lightly could land those convicted of having underage anal sex in jail.

The bill, introduced in May 2006 by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservatives, would keep judges from issuing conditional sentences for nearly 100 offences, including manslaughter and sexual assault with a weapon.

It also catches mail theft, cattle theft and section 159 of the criminal code — the prohibition of anal sex under the age of 18 or in groups of more than two people. Although the law has been struck down in five provincial jurisdictions, Canadians are still being prosecuted under section 159, usually in connection with other charges.

Conditional sentences keep those who are not a threat to their community from entering the harsh prison system. Harper's bill catches all crimes that carry a maximum sentence of 10 years or more, including the anal sex law. Way to go, Harper.


#43 HARPER RAILS AGAINST JUDGES WHO STRIKE ANTI-GAY LAWS


During the 2006 election, where Stephen Harper eked out his minority, the Conservatives rarely went off script. Why? Because when they do, they put their foot in their mouth. Harper, known for his extreme care for "messaging".

January 18, 2006 was of the few times he went off-message when he derided "activist" judges to reporters on the campaign trail. Later, he was hammered by journalists and he half-retracted his comments. "Some are, some aren't," he said at the time.

Canada's gays and lesbians have relied on the courts to strike down anti-gay laws because Parliament has been not just slow to move but deliberately inert. Now in Conservative hands, an inert Parliament is the best we can hope for. We need brave judges more than ever.


#42: $22 BILLION, UNSPENT, USED TO PAY DOWN DEBT


We're one of the only countries in the world doing it. By any traditional economic measure, when an economy like Canada's stops adding to its debt, the debt shrinks. The debt-to-GDP ratio shrinks. The comparative debt load shrinks (compared to other nations, or compared to other industrialized nations). Economists have traditionally held that balancing the federal books is the best way to handle the debt.

Still, after a billion dollars in ideological cuts last fall and handouts to stay-at-home moms this spring, Stephen Harper has decided in February that the best use for $9.2-billion of federally-collected taxes is to sink them into the debt.

That's less than six months after earmarking another $13.2 billion for debt reduction in 2006.

That's at a time when over 90 per cent of Canadians think we should be doing more for our poor. That's when cities, squeezed by years of federal and provincial off-loading, are scraping the bottom of the barrel to pay for basic services. Taxing Canadians and putting the money into debt reduction is silly — this is a two-strikes-you're-out game.


# 41 NORTH AMERICAN UNION PLANNED. BUT QUIETLY


Dozens of regulations are being quietly altered to help integrate Canada with our neighbors to the south. The problem is, almost no one knows about it and no one has been consulted.

Up for grabs is the Canadian energy grid, Canadian drug laws and federal food regulations. At a 2006 meeting in Banff, public safety minister Stockwell Day and defence minister Gordon O'Connor met with the military, political and business elite to discuss how to open the Canada-US and US-Mexico borders.

Notes obtained through US freedom of information laws outlines participants' fears that further integration, similar to that of the European Union, would not be well received by the citizens. Their solution? Integration by stealth, with the harmonization of food, drug, transportation and energy regulations — which do not require parliamentary approval — as the first steps.

Who says that Harper is hamstrung by his minority government?


#40 MPS GROOMED FOR HOLY WORK IN SECULAR HELL


Picture a Miss Manners school for so cons, run by everyone's favourite Reformer, Preston Manning. In Feb 2006, a few weeks after Stephen Harper plucked up enough seats to form a minority government, newly elected MPs and their aids gathered at an Ottawa Holiday Inn for a lesson in "diplomacy".

Don't abandon your beliefs but you must appear non-threatening, Manning told the recruits. It's a message the Conservatives have taken to heart. You can let God direct the public agenda, he advocated, but don't appear that God is directing your political work.

The theme of the workshop was "a sheep among wolves", but the xtra.ca staff is sure it's the other way around. Apparently, Manning went off his notes and stumbled into some claptrap about how us gays choose our lifestyle after a bad hetero relationship sours us. That's bad - but his gaffe highlights the message he was trying to send the newly faithful: keep your mouth shut and just do it.


#39 TRANSPARENCY TALK IS JUST TALK


Prime Minister Stephen Harper's latest controversy is not over policy, but over make-up. That's because Harper and his aides are refusing to say who foots the bill for his personal stylist, CBC make-up vet Michelle Muntean.

In the grander scheme, it hardly matters if the taxpayers are paying for Muntean's services. An argument could be made that, as embarrassing as it is, Harper represents the public face of the nation to foreign leaders and the press.

So why won't they say whose name is on the top of Muntean's cheques? It's part of the classic Harper double standard. He wanted access to all the details of Liberal spending when he was in opposition, but he's been one of the most tight-lipped prime ministers in recent memory. If there's nothing to hide, don't be so mum, Harper.


#38 TORIES CONTEMPLATED ROYAL COMMISSION TO RE-EVALUATE MARRIAGE


It's easy to imagine a scenario where a Royal Commission On Marriage And The Family returns a welcome report: suggesting that governments should get out of the outdated, sexist, religiously-rooted marriage biz, for instance. Leave it to churches to decide who to marry. (Maybe it would even end the tax incentives for getting hitched or reproducing, although we doubt it).

But that's not what was being suggested in the fall of 2006, after the Conservatives had (predictably) lost their bid to reopen the same-sex marriage debates. Religious leaders like Dave Quist (Focus On The Family Canada) and Joseph Ben-Ami (Institute For Canadian Values) called for the commission. Both groups have claimed that gay parents are hazardous to children.

Putting us in the position of defending our parenting skills against junk science is not currently on the horizon. But given that Harper owes Ben-Ami and Quist for selling his other policies (the shoddy day-care plan, raising the age of consent, cutting up Status Of Women Canada — more on that later), we're reluctant to rule it out.


#37 HOMOPHOBIC SLURS UNBECOMING OF PRIME MINISTER


It's so grade four. Calling a classmate gay (or using a more colourful version thereof) is something we thought we left behind in the school yard. Certainly, if Stephen Harper were to stoop to that, he would be called a bad role model.

Alas, a cryptic comment to then interim Liberal leader Bill Graham has gone unrebuked. After coming back from the Asia summit last year, Harper was teased by Graham for having his photo taken in a silk Veitnamese robe. Harper responded that in contrast to Graham, he wears silk on the outside.

Not a big deal. But if he's making gay jokes in the House Of Commons, what is he saying behind closed doors? Shame.


#36: GAY LAWYER SHAFTED BY HARPER HIMSELF IN PARTY PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION


It was a nailbiter, with the tiebreaking vote coming down to Stephen Harper himself.

When it came to pick a president for the new Conservative Party in May 2005, two candidates emerged, each garnering wide support within the party. One was gay Montreal lawyer with Progressive Conservative credentials; the other a Canadian Alliance vet, unilingual plumber Don Plett.

The party's 18-member national council returned 9-9 secret ballot result May 21, which meant that party leader Stephen Harper had to break the tie. He picked the plumber, reminding the whole country once again that the bogey man in Harper's past — his history of picking ideologues over moderation — is a spectre he's chosen to reinforce over and over again.


#35: HILL JOB FOR FOCUS ON THE FAMILY PREZ: REDUX


Reason #56 bemoaned Darrel Reid's appointment to Rona Ambrose's office. He only lasted four months, we reminded you. But what's much scarier is Reid's promotion: he's now in the PMO acting as the prime minister's deputy director of policy and research.

Reid headed up Focus On The Family Canada from 1998 to 2004, an ideologically anti-gay, anti-feminist, anti-abortion group with connections to the leaders of the US Christian right. Though the Canadian organization has traditionally enjoyed little influence outside of rural enclaves and evangelical churches, the US parent is seen as a major influence on the Republican Party and politics generally. Reid was gone by late January, meaning he lasted four months or less.

The prime minister of this country has the former leader of a reactionary religious group as his deputy director of policy and research. That's right. It's time to move to Norway.


#34: STOCKWELL DAY PONDERS HIRING MERCENARIES FOR AFGHANISTAN


We used to be so smug. That smugness just got a little harder to justify, thanks to controversial Conservative cabinet minister Stockwell Day's recent musings on hiring a rent-an-army. The US has spent the last ten years privatizing its military operations. Scrutiny has become particularly intense since the start of the Iraq war in 2003 and the American system has been roundly criticized for its high cost, poor conditions and the companies' lack of accountability to the public and its employees.

Now, Canada is considering the same with Day repeating the same derelect reasons as his American buddies. "To get the best system delivery at the best price, there's a possibility for the private sector there."


#33: WE HAVEN'T FORGOTTEN HARPER'S POLITICAL GAMES ON GAY MARRIAGE BILL


It was an extraordinary circumstance when then-PM Paul Martin agreed to extend the spring 2005 session of Parliament to legalize gay marriage. Martin, no hero of the gay community, promised to pass the Civil Marriages Act before the house rose for the summer, but Stephen Harper had different ideas.

He was publicly rebuked for his ultimatum — he called on Martin to drop the marriage bill or face stalling on a budget allocation bill, which would have caused an indefinite filibustering stalemate.

The bill did get passed in an extended session, making Harper's temper tantrums and failed attempts at bullying all the more childish, petty and homophobic.


#32: ATTACK DOG GETS $52M LEG UP


Billing himself as a victim's rights advocate, Steve Sullivan has made a career out of fear-mongering, lobbying governments to adopt a throw-away-the-key approach to handling people who commit crimes. Recently, he spoke to the parliamentary committee considering the age of consent as a vocal proponent of hiking it. Naturally, he and the Conservatives have a lot in common.

The Conservatives created a new job for him in March: the Canadian victims of crime ombudsman. The job comes with a $52 million budget over four years. The Bloc and NDP have raised concerns with him because he's a unilingual Anglophone, but we think they're missing the real dangers of giving the conservative lobbyist and talking head a big promotion.

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